Maxine Nunn explains how a Jewish Quaker can work in solidarity with the residents of an Arab village that doesn't officially exist (Interview)
When Maxine Nunn set off for Greece in 1988, she did not expect it to lead her to a new life in Israel. All she knew was that the Palestine Liberation Organization had rented a boat and was planning to put ashore in Israel about 150 Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes. Maxine, a San Franciscan Jew then living in Toronto, was also a Quaker. Since this kind of nonviolent action seemed to her a good way of working out conflicts, she wanted to be there with them, representing Jews for a Just Peace.
Maxine became a guest of the PLO at a hotel in Athens, but the boat was incapacitated and never got to Israel. She took a ferry over anyway and visited Mubarak Awad in East Jerusalem. He was working on the nonviolent Intifada at the time, promoting the Gandhian practice of striking only for part days, so they would be able to hold out longer. Within days, she discovered many other new peace groups that had begun to form in Israel, such as Arabs and Jews against the Occupation, whose Red Line march she joined. This group continues now visiting the northern West Bank every month and collecting facts about human rights violations.
These new encounters reawakened Maxine's girlhood desire to live in Israel. She found a job with Peace Brigades International and within a few months was back in Israel as an immigrant. Unfortunately, the immigration authorities did not understand that in becoming a Quaker, she had not ceased to be a Jew. It took eleven letters from religious experts, both Jewish and Quaker, to establish this compatibility and to establish her eligibility for citizenship. Today she earns her living as a translator in Jerusalem, devoting all her free time to the peace movement. In January, during her most recent annual visit to Toronto, we began by discussing the largest peace group in Israel, "Peace Now."
Peace Now was started back in 1977, after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem to put pressure on Prime Minister Begin. It was made up of army officers. Women were excluded from signing the initial statement because they only wanted people with experience who would carry weight. They told Begin to take advantage of what had been offered.
Next the organization brought out 100,000 people calling for an inquiry after the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. Along with the Labour Party they brought out an even larger demonstration. In the last few years they have been focusing mainly on the settlements. They maintain "settlement watches"-they go out and count new houses and people, and issue reports that are always at variance with what the settlers report. According to Peace Now, there are more houses and fewer people than the settlers say. They're building more and adding on rooms in ways they are not supposed to.
Peace Now works mainly through influencing the Labour Party and Ratz, the citizens rights party, which is part of the Meretz coalition. To me, that's a weakness because during a political campaign, all energy goes into that and they are not available to do anything else. Also, when their party is in power, as it is now, they are less willing to take action toward the government.
So then the other groups come into play. Even back in the '70s and early '80s, it was recognized that the other groups would test the waters. A group like The Committee Against the War in Lebanon, for example, held a demonstration practically the day the invasion began in 1982. It was just unheard of to hold a demonstration during hostilities, but several thousand people showed up. Peace Now saw that it was safe, so they had their first demonstration a few days later and were able to bring out ten times as many. But they wouldn't have risked doing so if the other group hadn't already succeeded.
In the early '80s there was a committee of solidarity at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank near Ramallah. Although most of the students and faculty are Arabic, its official language is English, so the media always go there to interview people. Even before the Intifada, it gained a reputation for being the hotbed of opposition and there was a lot of repression of the students. Students were shot and the school was repeatedly closed. So a group of Israeli academics who were concerned about the issues of academic freedom and Palestinian political rights formed a new solidarity group. When Lebanon was invaded in 1982, most of them became the Committee Against the War in Lebanon. In 1985, a lot of those people joined with Palestinians to form the Committee Against the Iron Fist.
Currently there are piles of groups, but Haifa seems to be the only area where there is a long-time coalition of groups that meet together and work together. There are women's groups, human rights organizations, solidarity groups, dialogue groups, and problemsolving oriented groups, such as the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, which is really a futuristic think-tank. It is the brainchild of an Israeli of American origin, Gershon Baskin, who had worked a lot on Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. He felt that when a Palestinian state is established alongside Israel (others will see to it that that will happen) something has to be done so that it will be a stable solution. He realized that there were a number of basic problems that needed to be solved first-e.g. Jerusalem, borders, water, economic development in the occupied territories, refugees. He took two approaches-writing articles and bringing together recognized academics, Israelis and Palestinians, to work on these problems. The reports are distributed in three languages.
Also, he holds frequent roundtable discussions in Jerusalem. I sat in once on a fascinating one on economic development. Only one Palestinian faction boycotted it. The Israelis included right wingers as well as left. One guest speaker talked about how to keep Gaza from exploding. This was shortly after the Gulf War. The occupied territories had been under curfew for a long time and were still subject to a lot of limitations. For example, if Gazans wanted to go to work in Israel, there had to be 10 in the car together; all 10 had to get off and work at the same place. If the car was found with only nine people, the driver would lose his license. The speaker said, reduce it to four. There was a problem about employment within the Gaza Strip. He was talking about all sorts of tax incentives to new businesses that might start. There was talk of a free trade zone in Gaza. He said no, just give them access to Tel Aviv. Don't worry about the competition against Israeli products-it will be fine.
In one respect, the right and the left want the same thing-that the occupied territories should be economically independent.
You do a lot of solidarity work. You visit Palestinians in their homes. How do people react to that?
Most are indifferent. If we are in the West Bank and we run into some settlers, they may not be too happy. They might yell or spit, but do not usually attack physically.
What solidarity group do you work with most?
The Committee of Solidarity with the Residents of Ramyah. You won't find it on the map because it is one of the 76 unrecognized Arab villages in Galilee. There are another 30 or 40 in the Negev, depending on what size you would consider worthy of recognition because there are a number of small Bedouin encampments there. But a significant number of Arab villages were left off the planning maps made in 1965, one year before the military government was taken off the heavily-Arab sections of Israel. Between 1948 and that time, Arabs had to have special permits to go out of their area and were treated as a potential fifth column.
These people were not informed. You didn't get a letter slid under your door saying that your village is now "unrecognized." They found out by experience. They couldn't get the normal services, such as electricity, water, sewage treatment. In fact, in '81, those services as well as the provision of schools were outlawed to the unrecognized villages. Where schools existed, they were closed and kids had to go elsewhere. People were encouraged to move and many did. Often a road would be built through one of these villages. In 1991, the people in Ramyah were informed that their land, which they had bought, had been expropriated in 1976 and that now the nearby Jewish town of Carmiel needed that land to accommodate incoming Russian immigrants.
The villagers of Ramyah are being offered a pitifully small amount of land. They own something like 25 acres and are being offered an eighth of that, and will have to give up their flocks of sheep and goats. They are not educated people, but they did not take this lying down. They found a group that campaigns on their behalf, and more than a year later they are still there! This is a precedent-setting thing. I feel pretty good about their prospects now. It's a bright spot. The elections didn't live up to their promise, but this is one bright spot.